Mike Hein was an America’s Cup sailor before becoming captain of an elegant, 138-foot motoryacht that specializes in fishing charters around the globe.
Captain, 138-foot motoryacht Mea Culpa
Date interviewed: October 2009
You’re the only former America’s Cup sailor we’ve ever interviewed who is now running a charter motoryacht—and one tricked out for fishing, at that.
It’s funny, but even with all of my boating experience, I had a hard time convincing anyone that I could actually run a powerboat. I was really happy to get this job!
How did you get started in boating?
I’m from Ohio, and I started on boats when I was about 6 years old, on Buckeye Lake. I learned to sail on a Flying Junior, and my first boat was a Lightning. As I got older, I got to know these two brothers on the lake whose father was a retired national champion sailor. The brothers were a little older than I was, and they had just finished sailing in the junior events for ages 13 to 17 at the time that I turned 12. Their father, George Fisher, took me under his wing. He needed another boy to train.
What an interesting setup for what would become the rest of your life.
Exactly. My Dad told me that he’d buy me the boat for the races if I paid all the expenses, so during high school I worked for a sail maker. I learned at a very young age that maintenance and preparation are high priorities. If you’re one of 10 kids in a race, and you break down, you can’t win. And I wanted to win.
Did you win?
I learned to race against Fisher and his sons. It was an incredible advantage. I could see what they did, how they steered, how they drove over the waves. We had such good competitions in our fleet that I could watch the way they started, the way they tacked—everything.
My experience became evident during the North American championship. Every year, we couldn’t race on the lake during that time because so many guys from our fleet had qualified to compete.
By 1982, when I was studying marketing at Ohio State University, I won the Lightning Class Junior North American Championship. In 1983, I got to crew at the Lightning World Championships in Italy.
Was it that reputation that got you the crew spot with legendary skipper Dennis Conner?
In 1984, I didn’t know Dennis Conner, but I knew he was a member at the San Diego Yacht Club in California, so I sought out a job there as head racing instructor. At the time, Dennis was putting together a team to go get back the America’s Cup. I wanted in.
I was with Stars and Stripes for six months in 1985, but the boat was so fast that we completed our trials too quickly. Dennis gave us all eight or 10 weeks off in Hawaii, and I got the name of Bill Koch, who owned the Maxi racing yacht Matador and needed crew. I ended up staying there until 1988, sailing all over the world. In 1990, I helped race Matador2 to win the world championships. I made it back to the America’s Cup in 1992, and won while defending aboard America3 with skipper Bill Koch.
I can’t imagine what happened to lure you away from all that adrenaline and lead you into a life of motoryacht charter.
On the day we won the America’s Cup, I was at this big party with a huge jeraboam of Moet & Chandon, and here comes ESPN with their cameras. Somebody handed me a microphone, and the red light came on, and I asked the love of my life, Annie, to marry me. She said yes, and we were married in 1993. We moved to California, joined the San Diego Yacht Club, and settled down.
By 1997, she was telling me that if we were going to do any more traveling, that was the time. We were in our early 30s. So we got jobs as crew on an old race boat in the Caribbean. We moved from there to a 125-foot Sparkman & Stephens sailboat called Freedom.
By 1999, I had realized something. When ladies would come on the boat and it was blowing 30 knots, the guys all wanted to sail, but we’d heel over and everybody’s drinks would spill. The ladies would be upset. So we spent a lot of time motoring on sailboats, and I eventually figured, why not be on a motorboat? Plus, I figured, there were a lot more powerboats than sailboats in the world, which meant more chances for jobs. So I got licensed to drive them all.
And, as you mentioned earlier, nobody believed you could do it.
It really was hard to convince powerboat owners that I could drive anything but a sailboat. I finally got a friend who was a motoryacht captain to let me serve as a watch captain for a few days so that I could put it on my resume, and I got a job on a 156-foot CRN motoryacht, delivering it from La Paz, Mexico, up to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Then I got to put “powerboat delivery captain” on my resume.
I got the job on this boat, Mea Culpa, when it was still an idea on paper, back in 2000. I helped oversee the build at the McMullen & Wing shipyard in New Zealand, and since the launch have done 30 trips or so with the owner and his guests across 68,000 miles. We’ve been to Australia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Western Samoa, French Polynesia, Hawaii, San Diego, the whole stretch of coast from Alaska to Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, the Panama Canal, all of the Caribbean, Florida, the Virgin Islands, and New England to Nova Scotia.
I can’t imagine there being any room for charter clients in there.
There wasn’t. This winter, the boat is being put into charter for the first time. It will keep doing the world and go back to the places the owner liked best. We can pretty much go wherever anybody wants to go for a charter within our general cruising radius.
I have to ask: Do you carry a small sailboat like a Laser, so that you can teach charter guests to sail?
You know, this boat’s owner is into fishing, not sailing. We have plenty of tenders for fishing, but no sailboats. Go figure.
Mea Culpa is part of the charter fleet with Camper & Nicholsons International. Any reputable charter broker can tell you more or help you book a week onboard.